You are only as healthy as your digestive tract. Many of us take for granted the work our bodies do for us until they fail us.
According to Canadian Digestive Health Foundation, 20 million Canadians suffer from digestive diseases. 30,000 Canadians die each year from diseases of the digestive system. http://www.cdhf.ca/digestive-disorders/statistics.shtml In fact, the epidemic of digestive disorders in this country is so common they are often considered normal!
There are two main causes of poor digestion: our diet and stress. http://www.everydayhealth.com/health-report/better-digestion/how-stress-affects-digestion.aspx We are exposed to chronic, unrelenting, unremitting stress that our bodies are not designed to deal with every day. Over time this overwhelms our nervous system, leading to burnout and disease. Your gut is the only organ besides the brain that has it’s own nervous system, the Enteric Nervous System. The small intestine has as many neurons as the spinal cord! Whether we almost get hit by a car or see that our bank account is overdrawn, our sympathetic nervous system responds the same way: with the fight or flight response. In fight or flight, most of the blood in your body relocates to the forebrain and the limbs in order for us to do battle or run really fast. Where has the blood relocated from? The gut and other internal organs. Digestion uses a lot of your body’s energy and requires this blood supply. When in fight or flight mode, your digestion virtually shuts down allowing food to sit for a long time without adequate supply of gastric juices. This creates inflammation of the gut lining causing it to weaken over time. Learning to manage your stress levels with breathing exercises, visualization techniques, daily Yoga practice and being sure to find time to nurture yourself will go a long way toward improving digestive function.
While managing stress levels is crucial, we must also nourish our bodies with the right food. Think about the food you eat as information for your cells that communicate how and when to function. Your digestive system is responsible for turning that food into usable nutrition for your body cells and then eliminating the waste products. How efficient we are at doing this will determine our entire health from our energy levels and state of mind to the appearance of our skin and hair and our ability to fight off diseases. A lack of nutrients and the wrong kind of food can result in faulty digestion, faulty absorption, bloating, gas, gut infections, poor elimination and more. The side effects of poor digestion disrupt every other system in our body: immune, brain and nervous system, hormones, organs and glands. This is because the food information isn’t getting to where is it needed.
- Breaks down food into usable nutrition
- Absorbs what we need; protein, fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals
- Blocks and eliminates toxins, chemicals and microbes
- Provides an environment for 3lbs of bacteria that help produce vitamins, improve absorption of minerals, help to digest food, relieve constipation and heal your digestive tract
- Protects you by strengthening you immune system (the gut immune system makes up 60% of the total immune system)
When your digestive tract becomes inflammed from infection, irritation from alcohol or pain killers or from antibiotics, the lining becomes weak and thin. This may be a significant contributing factor to the sudden development of food sensitivities and detoxification problems. It can also lead to other inflammatory disorders like arthritis. How? Because when the lining of the gut thins, toxins and undigested food particles are able to pass through into the blood stream and travel throughout the body. Your immune system views these as foreign invaders and launches full attack. As well, any food you may be sensitive to (gluten and dairy products for example) will irritate the lining and do considerable damage.
The foods we tend to eat the most of; refined carbohydrates such as breads, pasta, pastries and sweets, have no fibre and very little if any nutritional value. These are dead foods, and food that does not contain life, cannot sustain life. Reduce or eliminate these as much as you can. Also meat, dairy and eggs, while having excellent nutrition, contain no fibre and must be consumed with fresh plant foods for healthy digestion and good assimilation. The best foods to eat to promote not only excellent digestive health, but health for the entire body are fresh, whole plant foods. Fruits and vegetables (especiallu leafy greens like kale, collards, rapini and spinich), raw seeds and nuts, beans and lentils, whole, properly cooked grains (except wheat), all contain both forms of soluble and insoluble fibre to ensure optimal digestion and utilization of those wonderful nutrients. The bulk that forms in the colon from these foods is what encourages peristalsis, the movement that keeps waste travelling out of the body.
Begin making changes today that will heal your gut and heal your health! Make healthier food choices and consider meeting with a Holistic Nutritionist if you are concerned about possible food sensitivities.
Health and Happiness,
Kimberly Banting, RNCP